One Brand’s Growth From Amazon to Big Box Retail in Under 6 Months
Back in 2012, you had to see Liquipel in action to believe it.
And even at CES, onlookers were baffled as a case-less cell phone was dunked in water, pulled back out, and still remained functional thanks to nanotechnology. It didn’t seem possible.
Four years (and many water-damaged iPhones) later, and the iPhone 7 has finally caught up with a new water-resistant casing. Meanwhile, Liquipel has already added another incredibly practical product in its arsenal—SafeGuard, a lightweight shatterproof protection bundle for phones.
We caught up with Sam Winkler (CEO) and Joshua Villarreal (Marketing Director) to discuss the brand’s ascent from Amazon to big box retailers in less than 6 months.
What is Liquipel?
Liquipel seemed to come out of nowhere at CES in 2012, but the product was in the works long before that.
“The concept started around January 2009,” says Winkler. Co-founders Danny McPhail and Kevin Bacon were working with machinery to figure out how to make phones water resistant without the case.”
Winkler came on board in 2011, and helped launch the brand at CES 2012.
Although it sounds hard to believe, the original Liquipel product is made in something that resembles a microwave. A nano-coating is applied to electronics in an airless chamber, which leaves you with a breathable yet water-resistant phone sans case. It all takes just 25 minutes, and there’s no effect on the function or feel of the device (aside from the fact that the touch screen won’t work underwater).
SafeGuard branches off this same nanotechnology with a clear, sleek case and screen protector that provide near-indestructible impact protection for your phone. SafeGuard users can also rely on a 100% guarantee that if your breaks in the first 12 months, Liquipel will send you a check for up to $150 for phone repairs.
The generous guarantee is probably the biggest thing that sets Liquipel’s SafeGuard protection bundle apart from a pretty saturated market–and incidentally, has helped protect their brand from listing hijackers on Amazon.
Winkler points out, “This product is the only product in the marketplace that is guaranteed. If your phone breaks with SafeGuard on your phone, we send you a check with $150, no questions asked.”
Building Relationships With Brand Ambassadors
Part of Winkler’s strategy involves getting brand ambassadors to post about Liquipel on social media to their own followers.
“One of our first partners was Pharrell Williams,” says Winkler. “He actually came to some of the CES trade shows.”
The team caught Williams right on before he exploded into the mainstream in 2011.
One of Liquipel’s other notable partners, Steve Aoki—a.k.a. one of the most celebrated DJs of our time—actually needed Liquipel for himself.
“We actually started Liquipelling his DJ equipment,” says Winkler. “He’d throw cake or champagne on people [during his shows], and his stuff would be ruined…and he ended up becoming a partner in Liquipel.”
One particularly over-the-top video ad for Liquipel featuring Aoki was covered by The Huffington Post and AdWeek. These titles pretty much it up:
- “So-Campy-It-Can’t-Be-Real Ad For Liquipel IS REAL.” (The Huffington Post)
- “Waterproofing Spray’s Ad Is So Intentionally Cheesy, People Think It’s Fake” (AdWeek)
These videos were really targeted to a young audience, and the keen attention to Liquipel’s target market continued with SafeGuard.
Winkler and his team honed in on the part of his audience this product would appeal to most: skateboarders.
“Every skateboarder I knew growing up had a shattered screen,” points out Winkler. “So we brought Nyjah on board to help be the face of SafeGuard.”
“Nyjah” isn’t just any skateboarder—Winkler’s referring to Nyjah Huston, the highest-paid pro skateboarder in the world and the overall champion of the Street League Skateboarding competition series in 2010, 2012, and 2014-16.
Nyjah’s branded post above featuring Liquipel reached 110k views.
Winkler’s targeting an audience he knows well because—well, 19k of them are following him on his personal Instagram account.
Liquipel’s Growth on Amazon
Winkler ran into a problem early on in social promotions. While social buzz grew and click-throughs went up, actual conversions didn’t follow.
“When we first launched Instagram promotions, we had a 3:1 click through ratio. But there weren’t a lot of transactions because there were no reviews on our products [on Amazon].
The solution turned out to be a simple one. Once the team got more reviews on Amazon, their sales increased 10x.
The other key to their Amazon success was enrolling in Amazon Exclusives, a marketing channel where brand owners agree to only sell a specific product via the Amazon page and their ecommerce site. (Their exclusivity agreement has since ended.)
We weren’t surprised to find out that Liquipel chose to showcase SafeGuard on Amazon Exclusives. Winkler wasn’t (and isn’t) interested in getting buried in any type of media format—even traditional outlets:
We just launched on Wireless Dealer Magazine, and we’re on the front page of that [with six or seven pages on the company]. If we do a magazine, we’re gonna be the front page of the magazine. In our opinion, if you’re going to spend the money, get a feel and spend the money to be on the front, not just to be one silver in 30-40 pages.
But there’s an additional perk to the Amazon Exclusives program that Winkler values–the fact that Amazon Exclusives promoted the SafeGuard project across their own social platforms as well.
“They don’t just post any product on their social media,” says Winkler. “If you promote [Amazon]—they’ll turn around and support you back.”
And it worked. The results, according to Villarreal:
After our first month of being on Amazon, we saw the value of the platform. Our return doubled each month, and sales have nearly tripled since then. That volume put us on the map and is the reason we had the confidence we needed to get our foot in the door with Sam’s Club and Walmart.
The other reason they were able to land a meeting with big box retailers? Winkler’s social skills.
“You can have a great product, but that’s only half the battle,” says Villarreal. “Sam has the ability to connect with people and foster relationships. Outside of his warm friendly personality, I think people see a young motivated hard working entrepreneur and respond to very well that—that’s where he shows his true colors.”
The Future for Liquipel: B2B & Big Box Retail Expansion
There are two big ways Liquipel is changing in the future.
First, the original Liquipel model–where consumers send in phones to be Liquipelled individually–has shifted to a B2B model.
“We decided the way to increase volume was to go directly to the source,” says Villarreal. “We work with a multitude of electronic OEMs, and have worked with companies like Jawbone, Jaybird, and Samsung to name a few. After experiencing our success with ability to treat O’Neill boardshort fabric, in the future, we’ll be taking our water safe technology to other apparel companies as well,” says Villarreal.
Secondly, SafeGuard is rolling out in big box retailers Sam’s Club and Walmart, which will widen their customer base and establish their brand as a household name.
“At the end of the day,” adds Villarreal, “We will not be successful unless we have a loyal customer base. And that means producing a product that provides a solution to a problem so many of us experience and is cost-efficient.”
Liquipel’s goals are always in line with their core values: to establish trust amongst consumers with high-quality products.
So far, it’s a plan that’s paying off.
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